An exploration of the experience of codependency through interpretative phenomenological analysis

Bacon, Ingrid G. F. I. (2015) An exploration of the experience of codependency through interpretative phenomenological analysis. (PhD thesis), Brunel University, .


Codependency is a highly contested construct featuring in the popular, clinical and research literature. Within the academic literature, the voices and lived experience of individuals who consider themselves codependents are mostly unavailable. This Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study explored the lived experiences of 8 individuals self-identified as codependents, who chose 12-Step recovery groups to frame their recovery process. This research addressed the following research question: What is the lived experience of codependency among people who have sought support from a 12-step recovery group for codependents? The idiographic, phenomenological and hermeneutic aspects of the study captured how participants made sense of their experiences of codependency and the meanings of the support group. The information was collected over 3-6 months by means of three in-depth semi-structured interviews and a visual method in which participants selected and analysed objects or photographs which, for them, expressed the meaning of codependency. Four main themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews: (1) Codependency experienced as real and tangible: ‘Codependency explains everything’. (2) Experiencing an undefined sense of self: ‘Codependency helps me to discover my sense of self.’ (3) Seesawing through extremes in life: ‘Like a seesaw, I feel out of control’. (4) Finding meaning in codependency through exploring family experiences: ‘Down to childhood’. The findings revealed that the experience of codependency frames these individuals’ sense of identity, their lifeworlds and the way they view and experience life difficulties. It also provided a highly nuanced and fine-grained analysis of the lived experience of codependency. The study brings a new perspective on the lived experiences of this client group. Although the findings are not straightforwardly generalizable, they may inform clinical practice. It is hoped that this study will raise awareness about this controversial topic, bring a better understanding of codependency and inspire further research.

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